Friday, 7 March 2008

Hun Sen Promises to Step Down If He Loses the Election

Hun Sen: "I will step down if I lose the election. But I will not lose because I will che...t".

6th March 2008
By Khim Sarong
Radio Free Asia
Translated from Khmer to English by Khmerization

Prime Minister Hun Sen has appealed to all political parties not to use violence or intimidations before or during the election and he promises that he will step down if his party loses the election in July.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “If we lose I will recognise the election results immediately and allow the winning party to form the new government in accordance with the framework of the constitution which stipulates that the National Assembly must be convened within 60 days in order to form a new government. I will go to transfer the power to a new prime minister at the headquarters of the new Council of Ministers in order to maintain political stability. After that I can travel freely. No problem. I can play golf, but I don’t think the situation will get to that stage.”

Mr. Hun Sen became the prime minister of Cambodia since the early 1980s.

In the general elections organised by UNTAC in 1993 Mr. Hun Sen became the Second Prime Minister and consecutively served two terms as prime minister afterwards, even though he was criticised by the public and the opposition parties who accused him of being a corrupt and a dictatorial leader.

Barnert contingent visits Cambodia, raises funds to build school there

New Jersey Jewish Standard
07 March 2008
By Lois Goldrich

Rabbi Joel Soffin has led outreach projects all over the world — in El Salvador, Argentina, Ukraine, and Ethiopia. But last year, after reading an article by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on human trafficking in Cambodia, he knew that country would be his next destination.

In January, Soffin, social action rabbinical scholar-in-residence at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, went on a fact-finding mission to Cambodia. With him were Sara Losch, Barnert’s director of lifelong learning, and temple member Suzanne Levy. Also on the tour were congregants from Soffin’s previous congregation, Temple Shalom of Succasunna.

Describing his job at Barnert as "coordinating and inspiring social action," Soffin — who served the congregation as sabbatical rabbi from October 2006 to April 2007 — spoke to The Jewish Standard from Maine, where he is serving as sabbatical rabbi at Bet Ha’am synagogue in South Portland.

In "Fighting Brothels with Books," published in December 2006, Kristof states that while "building schools doesn’t solve the immediate problem of girls currently enslaved inside brothels … [l]iterate girls not only are in less danger of being trafficked, but later they have fewer children, care for their children better, and are much better able to earn a living."

Inspired by the article, Soffin — then sitting shiva for his brother, a teacher in Buffalo — realized that not only would building a school in Cambodia help the trafficking problem, but it would also be a fitting memorial for his brother, who worked with Buffalo City Honors, established for "kids who would otherwise be left behind," said Soffin. "I was thinking of him and his legacy."

Still, he noted, "While my initial motivation came from the Kristof article, once we were there, we went to the killing fields and the genocide museum. There was a building with 20 floors of human skulls. Does that sound familiar? Their souls were calling out ‘never again,’ but it happened again."

He said he also learned during the trip that "the people there want to learn how to take care of themselves, they don’t want handouts. They want to create their own future.

"Someone told me that they want their children ‘to use pens, not guns,’ a very Jewish vision. That solidified it for us."

Calling the trip both "exhausting and life-changing," Losch said that "the current reality is that children who do not go to school frequently wind up being trafficked into prostitution. We needed to understand why. Though I knew all about Pol Pot and the killing fields … the horrors of Cambodia were something I learned, watched on TV, but didn’t connect with. So, not to be tourists but to help us understand why we should build a school there, we needed to really understand what had happened."

Soffin, who created the Adult Mitzvah Corps of the Reform movement, said that the first step he took in planning the venture in Cambodia was to meet with former journalist Bernie Krisher, now head of the aid group American Assistance for Cambodia. According to Soffin, Krisher’s group facilitates the creation of schools in Cambodia with the assistance of private donors, the Cambodian government, and the Asian Development Bank. The organization has overseen construction of some 403 schools since it was created in the late 1990s, he said.

"They’re trying to offset some of the losses that resulted from Pol Pot’s policy of genocide in the 1970s," said Soffin. Pol Pot killed some 2 million Khmer people between 1975 and 1979. He noted that Cambodia is trying rebuild without the aid of the educators, artists, and entertainers who were killed during those blood-soaked years. Last year, only one out of every two Cambodian children completed primary school.

"One hundred percent of the schools were closed," said Losch, "relegating the country’s children to work in rice paddies and fields. The brutality was inconceivable. As Jews, we certainly are no strangers to such evil, yet even for us, the [sight] of skulls stacked shelves high, or walking on human bones, was devastating. We said Kaddish while standing with our tour guide, for a brother he never saw again."

Before embarking on the school project, Soffin’s group set out to learn whether building a school would, in fact, be the best way to help. The six participants — including his son Aaron — visited schools and spoke with experts on the issue of human trafficking.

"We wanted to find out if education is the way, or if there is something else that would be more effective," said Soffin. "It was uniformly agreed that education is the answer," he said, noting that what they learned only reinforced the feelings aroused by Kristof’s articles.

From Krisher, Soffin learned that if a certain amount of money could be raised, the Cambodian government would add additional monies, as would the Asian Development Bank. The rabbi is now appealing for funds from within and outside the Barnert community.

His goal is to raise $60,000, which will pay for the education of 500 children. Soffin noted that the money would fund five classes, each serving 50 children, in two shifts. It would also allow for "extras." He explained that while a school can be built for $13,000, with the government ready to step in and provide teachers and a curriculum, private donors can also select things off a "wish list."

Items on that list include some of the features he saw while visiting several schools during his January trip.

"In the schools we visited, the kids were thriving, happy, and learning. There was a well, water filter, vegetable garden, nurse, solar panel, library, and English teacher," he said. His plan is to provide some of those features, funding a generator rather than a solar panel so that a school will be able to support the use of 12 computers. In addition, he said, without ongoing funding, a school cannot continue to operate.

Soffin hopes to finish his fund-raising efforts in June. Besides reaching out to the community, he will make a contribution to this effort from his own foundation, Helping Hands. As part of this effort, he said, his son is uploading a movie of their Cambodia experience on his Website,

Cambodian parade rift to get an airing

Press - Telegram

Moderators to meet with both sides in dispute over official's invitation.

By Greg Mellen, Staff writer

LONG BEACH - Community members on both sides of a controversial decision to invite the deputy prime minister of Cambodia to participate in the annual Cambodian New Year parade will meet today to discuss their differences.

About 30 members of the Cambodian community attended Tuesday's City Council meeting. They presented the council with a petition comprising more than 1,000 signatures opposing a plan to have Cambodian leader Sok An ride in the April 6 parade.

There has been considerable confusion about who issued the invitation and whether it was properly made.

Mayor Bob Foster said at Tuesday's meeting that he never invited anyone to the parade - period.

Although the city provides support for the parade in certain areas, the City Council has no official role in the decisions the parade committee makes.

"It's not our parade," said 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews, in whose district most of the parade is held.

Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal said she was distressed at the emotions the dispute has dredged up.

"People expressed outright fear and trauma," Lowenthal said, adding that the city must do what it can to assuage that.

Melissa Morgan, the city's human dignity officer and Rene Castro from the California Conference of Equality and Justice, will moderate the meeting between parade organizers, who support Sok An's participation, and opponents.

Morgan and Castro said their roles are to facilitate dialogue but it is up to two factions to resolve differences.

"I'd like to see them just listen to each other and find out where we go from here," Morgan said. "They may not come to an agreement but I just hope they hear each other."

"What I hope to achieve by bringing the parties together is the increased understanding," Castro said. "There are no easy solutions."

There is a possibility that the point will be moot. There is considerable speculation that Sok An has decided to forgo the parade.

Parade organizer Richer San said Sok An has not confirmed that he will attend but that the invitation remains.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, a half-dozen opponents of Sok An's participation spoke to the council.

They cited Cambodia's dismal human rights record, corruption and other problems among their complaints.

Opponents also said the invitation violated the parade's own entry rules, which say entrants must be noncontroversial and should not advocate a political candidate.

Each side has met with CCEJ separately.

Buaya Club of Cambodia to hold 3rd golf tournament

March 07, 2008

The Buaya Club of Cambodia will hold its third golf tournament in Siem Reap from March 22 to 23, Chinese-language newspaper the Sin Chew Daily said on Friday.

Over 70 players will join the match to share the 20,000 US dollars strong cash prize contributed by 26 sponsors, it said.

The Buaya Club of Cambodia was established by sports-loving entrepreneurs. It now has 108 members and has held two golf tournaments already.

Source: Xinhua

Voice of Justice, Statement from the Dalai Lama for Global Peace Initiative of Women Jaipur Summit

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 05, March 7 - 20, 2008

It gives me great satisfaction to know that the Global Peace Initiative of Women will be meeting once more in 2008. I believe it is significant that your meeting is taking place here in India, a country which has since ancient times placed great value on ahimsa or nonviolence.

Peace is not something which exists independently of us, any more than does war. Those who are responsible for creating and keeping the peace are members of our own human family, the society that we as individuals participate in and help to create. Peace in the world thus depends on there being peace in the hearts of individuals. Peace based merely on political considerations or prompted by other compulsions will only be temporary and superficial.

I believe that in ancient times the status of men and women was more or less equal, with everyone sharing an equal load of work. Then, with the establishment of settled communities, power became a factor between them. And the basis for power was physical; therefore, because they are generally physically stronger, men came to dominate women.

In modern times, with the introduction of education for all, the basis for power, survival and improvement has been the brain, so the difference between men and women has changed and become less obvious.

The recent era, from the 17th through to the end of the 20th centuries, has been dominated by war and therefore the war hero became an object of admiration. However, now in the 21st century, when the world is so much more interdependent, compassion and warm heartedness are required. women are more of this nature, while men are more brutal – for example I believe almost all butchers are men. In order to create a genuine, peaceful society we need more warm heartedness so the role of women is important.

In recent times humanity has experienced surprising progress as a result of achievements in the fields of technology and science, but at the same time other experiences have been awful. During the 20th century, a greater number of human beings met their deaths through violence than at any other time, and the damage done to the natural environment was very serious. But as a result of these experiences, humanity is becoming more mature, an indication of which is the evident and growing concern for peace, non-violence, and human rights. Even politicians increasingly talk about ‘compassion’ and ‘reconciliation.’ Peace is increasingly a mainstream concern.

Peaceful living is about trusting those on whom we depend and caring for those who depend on us. Even if only a few individuals try to create mental peace and happiness within themselves and act responsibly and kind-heartedly towards others, they will have a positive influence in their community. As well as being equally capable, women have an equal responsibility to do this.n I am convinced that concerned groups and individuals everywhere have a responsibility to work for peace. We have an obligation to promote a new vision of society. One in which war has no place in resolving disputes among states, communities or individuals, but in which non-violence is the pre-eminent value in all human relations. In today’s reality the only way of resolving differences is through dialogue and compromise, through human understanding and humility.

For many years I have tried to promote positive human values and the importance of compassion in human society. It is clear to me that taking steps to ensure the welfare and protection of women and children, improving their prospects for health, education and economic development and encouraging women in leadership roles can only benefit them and society at large. I also fully support the goal of working to bring about a positive transformation in our efforts to secure genuine world peace. I believe that the Global Peace Initiative of Women can make a significant contribution in this direction. I offer my greetings to all who participate in and attend your conference.

Remembering the kind influence of my own mother, I pray that women working for inner peace, and through that peace in the world, may be blessed with success.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama 19 December 2007

I find this statement timely in light of International Women’s Day this March 8; and it is being transmitted from the airport lounge of Bangkok as the Venerables Hiek Sopheap and Vy Sovechea, former Jesuit priest and peace activist Bob Maat and I await our connecting flight to Delhi to join hundreds of other peacemakers and religious and civil society leaders from around the world in Jaipur, India for the GPIW Summit “Making Way for the Feminine for the Benefit of the World Community”. To read past VOJ articles, please visit “Voice of Justice Program”. – Theary Seng, 5 March 2008.

Cambodian Dreams: Hope and hardship in the 1980s

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 05, March 7 - 20, 2008


Twenty years after he began work on it, Stanley Harper’s movie Cambodian Dreams is ready for release March 27 at Chaktomuk Theatre in a ceremony to be presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

The film documents the parallel stories of rural farm grandmother Yan Chheing’s struggle in a refugee camp in Thailand, and her daughter’s hard life in the rice fields of Cambodia. It will air on all national TV stations simultaneously.

At the Council of Ministers last week, Sok An honored Chheing, the unlikely film star, praising her for her love of Cambodia and her unwavering work ethic portrayed in the film.

The spirited grandmother told the ministers she had refused to “sit and grow fat” in the refugee camp because it was better to always work hard whatever the circumstances.

On screen, Chheing often voices her frustration at having to live like a “parasite” on handouts at the refugee camp and not being able to work to earn a living. She desperately tries to ingrain this work ethic into her grandchildren through both her stories of the past and her example during their many years as refugees, expressing a fear they would “be content with life in the camps because it is all they know.”

Although he had met Chheing two years earlier while working on a BBC documentary, Harper, a New Zealander who is a long time resident of Phnom Penh, said he began work on Cambodian Dreams in 1988.

The filming took place in two locations – Site 2 refugee camp about 50km from the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet and a village near Battambang where Chheing’s daughter Tha struggled to work a small piece of land with her husband and children.

During the 1980s hostilities ran high between those who fled to refugee camps and rural farmers who stayed behind to rebuild the country despite the hardships.

Harper cited the jealousy and animosity felt toward those who seemed to be living an easy life in the camps with food, clothing, shelter and medicine.

Meanwhile, in the camps, families struggled to find meaning to their lives and longed to return to their homeland.

Harper said his intention was to document both sides to promote understanding and reconciliation, firstly between this particular family and then throughout the country by telling their story.

“I don’t know what impact the film will have but it is time for Khmer people to realize they are one people and need to help each other and be proud of who they are,” he said. “We need to work together. This is my dream.”

In a review for the Los Angeles Times, film critic David Thomas described the film as “a heartbreaking yet understated study of individuals longing for their roots and craving the dignity of self sufficiency.”

Chheing who now lives in Battambang, said she was very happy and excited to be invited by Sok An for the meeting.

“I never thought my life could be as good as this,” she said.

Chheing said when she was first approached by Harper about the film she agreed because she thought it would be fun.

“He told me to wait and see,” Chheing said. “I was shocked when I came here and saw myself in the film yesterday. I never thought it would be such a big deal.”

Following a discussion among government officials and those involved in the film’s production, Sok An presented Chheing with gifts of rice, noodles, bedding and $1,000.

Rising food prices hit home

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 05, March 7 - 20, 2008


Chrang Chamres – On the long, gently sloping bank of Cambodia's Tonle river, Doem Lao chops half a dozen large fish heads in the early morning for the one meal that her family will eat that day.

It is the 45-year-old farmer's fourth unseasonably cold dawn in this quiet Muslim neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where her extended family has set up camp with others from their village in the southern province of Takeo.

Like tens of thousands of rural Cambodians, they have joined the annual migration to the river to buy enough fish to make a year's worth of prahok, the pungent fermented paste that is the only source of protein for many in the Kingdom’s impoverished rural regions.

But the rice they brought from home has nearly run out and the fish have yet to appear in the large nets strung across the river in front of their camp.

The crude bamboo and metal mesh processing stalls on the riverbank are silent – and February is the last month of the fishing season.

A sudden drop-off in the numbers of prahok fish has seen their price more than triple this year, up to as high as 50 US cents a kilogram from around 12 cents, putting this most basic of Cambodian commodities out of reach for many.

While not normally a benchmark by which to measure food security, prahok prices have highlighted the spiraling costs of staple goods that are threatening Cambodia's poorest with hunger.

"We eat prahok every day. Last year we made so much that we could sell some or trade it for rice," Doem Lao said, sitting in a tight circle with other village women and a few young children.

"This year I'm not at all hopeful. Some of us have left already. We're not going to have enough prahok. We're not even going to have enough rice," she said.

Across Asia the cost of food is rising, for a variety of reasons, from higher demand and spiking global oil prices to environmental factors like global warming which disrupt the normal agricultural cycles.

But while other regional governments have responded by cutting import tariffs or establishing national food stockpiles, Cambodia appears reluctant to step in and halt the upward climb of food costs.

For poor Cambodians, this means that in addition to losing their prahok, they are not able to supplement their already meager diets with other foods, particularly meat.

"Everything now is so expensive," said another village woman, Bhum Sap, rattling off the current prices of chicken, pork and beef, which can cost as much as $5 a kilogram.

A victim of its own success

Cambodia, in some ways, has become a victim of its own economic success. The country has recorded economic growth averaging 11 percent over the past three years, spurred on by a galloping tourism sector and strong garment and building industries.

Growing interest by foreign investors and a real estate boom that has helped create more than a few overnight millionaires have resulted in an unprecedented explosion of wealth.

But the sudden influx of cash into the fragile economy has not come without its pitfalls.

Over the past year inflation has spiked at 10.8 percent, compared with 2.8 percent at the end of 2006, driving up the cost of food and other staple goods and pushing the most vulnerable deeper into poverty.

"About 8.5 percentage points of December's inflation rate of 10.8 percent was accounted for by food price inflation," said the International Monetary Fund's Cambodia representative John Nelmes.

For as many as 2.6 million people living in extreme poverty, the situation has been worsening over the last several years, which have been marked by poor harvests brought on by natural disasters such as flood or drought.

“Too many Cambodians still suffer from hunger and malnutrition for some or most of the time,” the World Food Programme (WFP) said on its website.

The unrelenting rise in food costs only adds more depth to their misery.

“WFP is very concerned about the general increase of the cost of the staples, in Cambodia as well as elsewhere,” said WFP country director for Cambodia, Thomas Keusters.

Food inflation has affected aid efforts at a crucial time, as aid agencies anticipate the need for more handouts in rural areas facing a leaner than normal year ahead.

In January last year, the WFP paid $237 per metric tonne of rice, a cost that has now risen to $367 a tonne, Keusters said.

“For every dollar received from the international and local donor community, we buy 55 percent less rice. With the general increase in the cost of food, the need for food assistance will not decrease,” he said.

“On the contrary. As Cambodia faces new challenges such as climate change, changes in food availability, high energy prices, globalization and many more, we all need to strategize better,” he said. (AFP)

Back in the girls’ dorm at 37

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 05, March 7 - 20, 2008

Alternative-media guru Anne Elizabeth Moore, 37, has just spent two months living in the Harpswell dormitory in Phnom Penh. The Harpswell foundation, established in 1999 by author and physicist Alan Lightman and his wife Jean provides educational opportunities to academically gifted young Cambodians. Most colleges here do not provide housing for students. So in 2007 the Harpswell foundation completed its first three-story dormitory for female college students in Phnom Penh. Now 36 female students, who have all been admitted on the basis of their potential to be “future leaders” in Cambodia, have moved in. Invited to live at the dormitory as part of the Foundation’s new “Leadership Residency” program, Moore found herself sharing a room with three of Cambodia’s female future leaders – all currently 18 years old. “I’m on the bottom of a bunk bed,” Moore said. “Did you put the part where I’m 37?” Moore has written more than 30 “fanzines” – publications by fans of various cultural phenomena – on topics as significant as pie and as meaningless as international coffee-shop chains. Her work has appeared in The Onion, the Chicago Reader and Punk Planet, which she helped to found. Originally from South Dakota, Moore headed back to the US in February to promote her new offering Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity. Before leaving, she spoke to the Post’s Cat Barton about poisonous frogs, toilet paper feminism and the Cambodian media.

So how’s the all-girl dormitory been?

I walked into the dorm and I was subsumed. Thirty-two girls on me like a tidal wave. I feel I didn’t emerge from that for three weeks. I didn’t know what to think. Oh my god, I’m 37 and I’m moving into a college dorm. I didn’t even live in a dorm at college – I’d not immersed myself in that environment deliberately, it terrifies me.

What have you been doing?

Media has become and seems monolithic and unapproachable and untouchable for the vast majority on earth – it is true in the US and in Cambodia. So everything I do is about giving people more access over the tools they need to create it, options to create their own media, a way to approach it critically, not negatively, but with an awareness, especially of what goes into making it.

What do you think of the media here?

I can’t address the Khmer-language magazines. I can’t read Khmer and I can only understand some conversations about food and baby animals. But the system doesn’t provide much access. For example, ten of the girls in the dormitory told me they wanted to be journalists but their parents said, “No, it’s too dangerous.” I think the system of development that is being sought after in Cambodia promotes an opportunism in media that is not about retaining genuine historic interest or genuine political beliefs, or reflecting the day-to-day life of Cambodia, or Cambodians.
All this stuff – as true as it is for regular people in any class, of any race, in any system – is especially true for young girls. They never feel represented in the news media and that’s why magazines like Seventeen proliferate; because they are the only thing that in any way represents them. But things like that do not promote education, just things you can buy.

What’s day-to-day life like at the dorm?

I wake up at dawn, the dorm is three floors and it is a self-governing, girl-run organization. In this mode of creating women leaders, they are great – they definitely run their own community.
They do all the cooking and cleaning. A different room cooks and cleans each day. We cook and eat on the floor. It’s always rice and something on it – “food,” as they say. If I have a stomach problem and I’m just eating rice they will ask me “Where’s the food?” and I tell them that in the US we call rice food, it’s not just something to put food on.

Is it easy to talk to the girls?

What they lack in vocabulary they make up for in earnestness. Like, once, there was a frog in the toilet. I was in there taking pictures, getting up close, like “Wow! Look at this, girls!” And then Melia, one of my roommates, saw the photos and she didn’t know how to say “That is a very dangerous, poisonous frog, leave it alone.” But she said very carefully, “Oh. No. That frog. If spit on you big problem.” I’ve been learning about other ways of communicating.

What did they think of you when you arrived?

When I came one girl said, “I hear you’re a writer and you write about what the government does wrong.” I think there were two kinds of writers for them – good ones, like Alan Lightman, and ones like me who write about what the government does wrong. I have tried to explain to them that I feel sometimes, when you write about what happens, you end up writing about what the government has done wrong. But I also write – much more importantly – about allowing people to do what they want. It took a couple of days to sink in.

Have they been inspired to make their own media?

It is a normal approach when you start thinking about making your own media that anything you’ve done or experienced appears normal because you have been through it. Not newsworthy. Then there is also desire for approval – whether from the government to ensure safety or from your peers and social group. All of these things combine to not give these girls in particular much impetus to express things they find difficult or weird. This happens not just in media – here there is this culture of make do with what you’ve got. For example, if you have run out of toilet paper, don’t just buy it; wait, think about it. I say, “No! You need toilet paper. It is a precondition of being a feminist.” Well, it’s not, it doesn’t matter, but I wanted them to have it all and not be stressed out if they run out of toilet paper.

How has your teaching them to make zines gone?

At first it was average teenage girl stuff – which is great, there is room for that. But these girls are different, so there has been a second wave of engaging with the ideas, thinking about what they can do with them. There has been a second round of results too. Every project has levels of engagement, time of disengagement when no one is paying attention. I came in one day and Savy, one of my girls, said, “I’ve finished my first zine, I’ve transcribed the history of Phnom Penh from Khmer to English and drawn illustrations and I was in a hurry to publish it so I snuck out and made photocopies myself. Here’s your copy.” Then it was like, “Wow, I’m here for two more weeks and I have nothing to teach you.”

Is there space for people to express themselves in Cambodia?

For me, it’s interesting being here and trying to suss out what the lines are. That’s how you are able to change them. It’s not that I’m dedicated to changing it or coming back even, but as a cultural critic that’s how I work. Mia Farrow comes to town and we ban her from laying flowers and close all genocide sites near the city. To deny it? What’s the message here? This incident drew that line a little more clearly.

‘I didn’t mean to kill her’

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 05, March 7 - 20, 2008

US man facing murder charge says he was once policeman


The American man charged with the gruesome killing of a Vietnamese prostitute who worked the Street 63 night-beat near Phnom Penh’s Sorya shopping mall says that not only has he never been in trouble with the law, for a while he was the law.

“I was a police officer in the States. I joined after September 11 but I later left the force because I realized it was just a business that didn’t truly serve the people,” Grant Kim Helling told the Post March 5 from a hospital bed in the capital where he is recovering from injuries sustained while attempting to evade police.

“I’m not against the police – I’m just not with them anymore.

“But man, I had to have a clean record to join the force. I’ve never been in trouble before, I’ve never been arrested before, not even for drunk driving,” he said.

Helling declined to name the police force he worked for, or to give any details about that career, or any details about what actually happened during the killing of the street worker in late February.
The following day Helling modified his statement to the Post, saying he was a “ part time policeman” with a gun and a badge, but his fulltime job was an an electrical contractor.

But for a man who says he has never been in trouble with the law before, Helling’s troubles are now as big-time as they can get – and he knows it.

Laying in his boxer shorts on a narrow bed in Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, with a bottle of water and a Robert Ludlum book seemingly his only possessions, Helling began to sob uncontrollably while speaking to the Post, repeating over and over, “It was an accident man, I didn’t mean to kill her, it was an accident.”

Helling is charged with the killing of a Vietnamese woman in a bizarre incident that came to light when police arrived at his rented house in Boeng Keng Kang I on February 22 to see him jump out of a first floor window. They found the body of a dead prostitute in his house covered by a smoldering mattress.

The landlord had called the police when he noticed smoke coming from Helling’s apartment – Helling had covered the decomposing body with a mattress and clothes and set fire to it.

Helling panicked when the police arrived, and when he jumped from his first floor window he seriously injured his leg, hence his stint in hospital.

Helling is a youthful 46 years, and his boyish and polite demeanor belies his recently acquired image as a brutal killer.

He told the Post that it was all an awful accident.

“It was just like I was driving my car home from work and hit someone and threw the body in a ditch.

“It was an accident. I’ve never hurt anyone in my life, I’ve never been violent in my life.”

Asked how he could cope with being holed up in an apartment for several days with a dead woman on the floor slowly decomposing, he began weeping again.

“I didn’t know what to do, man. So in the end I did the wrong thing. I ended up doing nothing,” Helling said.

There is some discrepancy about how the 20-year-old Vietnamese street worker, known only as Emi, was actually killed.

Chamkar Mon district Security Police Chief Leng Kim Heang told the Cambodia Daily that the woman had been strangled. “There was a mark made by a coat hanger,” he was quoted as saying.

But on March 5, Municipal Foreigner Police Chief Mom Sitha made no mention of the coat hanger to the Post.

He said that on the day of the fatal incident Helling and the woman had a serious argument.

Helling said he met Emi as a street worker and took her home several times as a client.

“When he learnt that she had another boyfriend, Helling asked her to get out of his home. Then she asked for money,” Mom Sitha said.

“He clasped his hand to her mouth and nose and then left the apartment, not knowing then that she was dead. But when he came back at the evening time, he found that she was dead.”

Ouk Sokhon, Chamkamon district police chief said, “Helling came to Cambodia as a tourist but he is not sure when he entered Cambodia. He rented the house in Boeng Keng Kang I commune for less than a month before he was arrested.

“From what I know, the argument between Helling and a Vietnamese girl happened when both sides used rude words and cursed each other, and this made Helling angry.”

According to riverside bar owners, Helling had been partying hard and was on the edge for some time.

One riverside bar and guesthouse owner told the Post he threw Helling out a couple of months ago while he was allegedly on a methamphetamine binge.

Helling said he is friendless in Phnom Penh and only has the US Embassy to look after his interests.

“I understand now why I pay taxes because the American government, the American Embassy has been here for me.”

He said his mother and father know of his situation but he does not want them to come to Cambodia, and as far as he knows his divorced wife in the US is unaware that he faces a life sentence in Cambodia.

Helling’s final words to the Post were, “I’m gonna pay my bill for this and I know it’s gonna be a big bill. I’m not gonna try to snaggle out of it, but it was an accident, man, an accident.”

A US Embassy spokesman said, “The Embassy is prohibited from discussing individual American citizens, due to the Privacy Act.”

Cambodian PM warns eco-court can curb tourism

PHNOM PENH, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that government ministers should be cautious before offering support for a proposed international tribunal for ecological crimes, the Cambodia Daily newspaper said Friday.

Cambodia should not allow new environmental restrictions to curb the increasing number of planes that deliver increasing volumes of tourists to Cambodia, Hun Sen was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Cambodia was not alone responsible for climate change, he said, adding that climate change is a new, complex issue that required further study before Cambodia could take any actions.

Hun Sen said Cambodia expected to receive 2.3 million tourists this year, a 15 percent increase over 2007 level.

It was unclear which proposed international body the premier was referring to, however the Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that UN diplomats had expressed renewed interest in creating such a tribunal, a long-standing proposal, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, World Wildlife Fund Program Manager Bas van Helvoort said Thursday that Cambodia was not among the world's largest polluters, but it likely would not suffer from the creation of such a court.

Editor: An Lu

Baby dolphin's health causes concern in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Though infant mortality is on the decline among Cambodia's endangered Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin population, the overall health of the baby dolphins is of concern, national media on Friday quoted expert as saying.

Two of the nine baby dolphins born in 2007 died - one in January and another last week, said Touch Seang Tana, head of the governmental Commission of Mekong Dolphin Conservation.

In 2006, 14 babies were born, six of which died, he said, adding that these numbers were encouraging given the fact that the previous years saw an average of 15 babies die.

"Before there were a lot of deaths. Now there is only two," he was quoted by English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodian Dailyas saying.

The improvements are attributed to education campaigns over the last couple of years warning villagers not to use gill nets and encouraging them to find work in tourism instead of fishing.

However, the surviving baby dolphins are underweight and look unhealthy, he said, adding that the baby dolphin dying in January weighed only 3.8 kg and the baby found last week tangled in a fishing net 4 kg, some one kg shy of the normal weight.

"The remaining babies are small," he said, adding that the baby dolphin’s failing health is partly due to a shortage in the fish their mothers eat, which is something he attributed to global warming and shifting temperatures.

World Wildlife Fund' Cambodia Country Director Teak Seng said that global warming may be a threat to the dolphins, but there is no conclusive evidence to support the theory.

"We don't have any scientific evidence that supports this casual relationship, therefore further research needs to be conducted," he said.

"While dolphins are very sensitive to changes in their environment, such as water temperature and quality, other factors may be more influential such as diseases and water pollution," he added.

According to the Commission of Mekong Dolphin Conservation, there are currently 140 to 150 dolphins in Cambodia, over some 90 in 2006.

The Cambodian government has adopted a series of measures to protect the animal, such as no use of fishing net in its inhabiting area, and encouragement of local people to salvage those struggling in nets.

Editor: An Lu

Cambodians seek to preserve centuries-old traditions in Buxton
By Robert Lowell
Reporter-American Journal

BUXTON (March 6, 2008): After Saturday’s storm, Navan Leng plowed the driveway and shoveled snow from the sidewalk Sunday at Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Buxton.

“I like it,” Bak Him, a monk who speaks little English, said of the snow. “But I’m cold, I don’t have a big coat.”

The Maine weather is in stark contrast to Bak Him’s homeland, Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia with a tropical climate. A refugee now living in Buxton, Him is one of two monks at the Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple, which has so far received an icy reception in its effort to get town permission to hold gatherings at the property.

Located in a typical New England house with shutters and a gable roof on Back Nippen Road, the temple appears at first like any other home in rural Buxton. But a sign on the home immediately sets it apart from any of the other homes along the road and the other Christian churches in town.
The only Cambodian Buddhist temple in the state, Watt Samaki is home to religious practices that appear exotic and foreign but have endured throughout the world for centuries. The monks that live there function as the spiritual leaders of their congregation, whose members are taught principles familiar to all: I will not kill, I will not steal, I will not speak untruth and I will not consume intoxicating substances.

The permit process began in January, and on Monday, the Buxton Planning Board will re-open a public hearing on the request, starting at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. Neighbors have previously voiced concerns about parking and increased traffic through the residential neighborhood on rural Back Nippen Road. It is the board's third hearing on the matter.

At a previous hearing Feb. 11, some Planning Board members said they thought the temple’s plan needed to be modified to include a stormwater pond to collect runoff from parking to trap pollution before draining into wetlands. The temple was also asked to resubmit plans for the 67-car parking lot after planners discovered that parking spaces were 6 inches short of an ordinance requiring 9-foot width.

The temple is located in a rural residential area where a church would be allowed. Temple leaders say the home would serve as the spiritual and social center for Cambodians in Maine.
“The temple is the heart of the community,” Leng, temple president, said. “The temple is the healing place. They put their mind in peace. Forget about world's problems.”

Most temple members live in Portland, Westbrook, Saco, Biddeford and Brunswick. Sunny Brown Mao, the treasurer, travels to the temple from Augusta.

Most members of the Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple are refugees. Many Cambodians fled to the United States since the reign of Pot Pol, Cambodian leader 1976-1979, in which as many as 3 million died. Maine has an estimated total of 350 Cambodian families.
U.S. Cambodian refugees usually live in urban areas where jobs are located, according to Sunil Goonasekera, a visiting professor who teaches four Asian religions, including Buddhism, at Bowdoin College.

The temple, which began in 1985, bought a small property in Portland as a first step, but sought a larger site. Leng said the price of the Buxton property was affordable and a nice location. The property, which the temple purchased three years ago, includes a home and an attached building that once housed a printing business.

While it might seem out of place in rural Buxton, the location on eight, largely wooded acres is not unusual for a temple, according to Pirun Sen, chairman of board of Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple. In Cambodia, temples are always in the forests. Buddha, the religion’s founder, is said to have been enlightened with the truths while under a tree.

"People like to meditate in forests," said Sen, who was born in rural Cambodia. "It's a place to focus. It lifts their spirits up."

There are no chairs inside the temple, which is carpeted, and visitors remove shoes before entering. The monks sit on cushions on a raised platform, a little higher than the main floor where people sit.

"We can't sit higher than the monks," Leng said. "And the monks can't sit higher than the Buddhas."

Images of Buddha are displayed in the Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple. Three of those Buddhas were shipped from Cambodia at a cost to members of $7,000. Members support the temple and the monks, but there is no set limit for donations.

“It comes from your heart,” Leng said about giving.

Temple artwork depicts Cambodian culture, and lights behind the Buddhas in the temple are from Cambodia. Unlike temples in the United States, artwork and writings are inscribed by artists on walls in temples in Cambodia.

Temple life

Goonasekera said a Buddhist monk typically begins each day at 4 a.m. with sweeping before worshipping and eating breakfast. “They keep it spotlessly clean,” Goonasekera said.

To become a monk, said Harry Schnur, a Bowdoin student studying the temple, the ceremony includes shaving the head and receiving the robes. “He is usually compelled to recite passages from Buddhist scripture in Pali, the Buddhist Holy language in response to prompting by senior monks,” Schnur said.

The temple is home to two monks, Him and Chantrea Mean. Him, who will be 73 Friday, was born in Cambodia and has been a monk for two years. Him fled Cambodia in 1979 and arrived in the United States in 1986 after stops in Thailand and the Philippines. Him, a first level monk, has been a member of the Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple since 1987 and once served as its treasurer.

Mean, 60, came to the United States in 1997 and doesn't speak English. Mean has been a monk for 40 years and was ordained in Cambodia. Mean has never been married.

Him gave up married life to become a monk. Goonasekera said monks have to abstain from all sexual activity and renounce the ways of the world. Him, who has seven children in the United States, separated from his wife, who lives in Portland, to lead a celibate life and qualify as a monk. Him earned U.S. citizenship in 2004.

Leng said Him became a monk because his goal is to help people conduct their lives according to Buddhist doctrines.

Goonasekera, a native of Sri Lanka, said lay members of a Buddhist temple take food, usually breakfast and lunch, to the monks, but dinner isn’t eaten in a temple.

Following tradition, Leng also delivered bottled water and bags of groceries for the two resident monks, Him and Chantrea Mean, after he cleared the snow. In Cambodia, families and nuns provide prepared food for monks. But in Buxton, Him and Mean often fix their own meals.
“I cook myself,” Him said, adding that his favorite food includes chicken, pork, noodles and vegetables.

Leng explained why the monks cook in Buxton. “The difference is over here most of us work different schedules. Old people can’t drive and they depend on daughters and sons,” he said.

Him enjoys gardening, and last year planted vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes. “Hot, hot peppers,” Him replied when asked his favorite vegetable to plant.

Neighbors are welcome to pick vegetables from Him’s garden. He once earned an award helping students garden in the Sagamore Village neighborhood of Portland. He stores his award and other personal memorabilia in a Sam’s Club tote bag.

Him will be offered new robes in October in an annual community observance, celebrating the end of the rainy season. Him, like all Cambodian Buddhist monks, always wears the traditional robes, even to Buxton Planning Board meetings. The orange or yellow robes are symbolic of stained cloth.

Monks are forbidden to own property or a car and can’t wear fancy jewelry. Goonasekera said monks renounce singing, dancing or playing musical instruments.

Holy days for Buddhists are on full, new and half moon. Him is required to have short hair and shaves his head twice a month, including on the full moon.

On the Holy days, the laity usually wear white clothing and carry gifts like flowers, oil and incense to the temple.

“They worship very quietly,” Goonasekera said, then gather for a sermon, which lasts an hour. “The neighborhood won’t know anything about it.”

Community center

Besides worshipping, members go to the temple to seek advice from the monks. The temple is a source for physical, psychological and spiritual healing. “When they get depressed, they go to see the monks,” Goonasekera said.

Cambodians seek solace at the temple. A monk offers chanting for people and a blessing with water to heal their problems, according to Leng. A monk might give a crying child a bracelet or a necklace to keep evil spirits away.

Temple members greet the monks by kneeling, clasping hands together as in praying. The monks aren’t allowed to shake hands.

Goonasekera said a Buddhist temple is open to everyone, regardless of religion. “They don’t criticize other religions,” Goonesakera said.

“Monks are required to be polite,” said Goonesakera.

People aren’t questioned about their faith when visiting a Buddhist temple and monks don’t proselytize. Goonesakera said monks don’t carry out campaigns to convert people to Buddhism.

“People have to come to them,” Goonesakera said.

Cambodian Buddhists have seven special celebrations each year. The Cambodian New Year, April 13, is one of the three celebrations likely to attract some 200 people and cars for the 67 parking spaces the Planning Board is requiring of the temple.

On May 15, the temple will observe one of the four celebrations in which only some 20 cars are expected. It celebrates the birth and death of Buddha. “Buddha was a God but he passed away,” Him said.

Leng said the temple is important to Cambodian Buddhists and helps bring peace to the community. “The temple shows you the right path to walk,” Leng said.

The temple helps refugees adapt to a new culture. A refugee, Leng said about immigrating to the United States, “We lost hope, we came here to regain hope.”

Outside the Buxton temple, a U.S. flag is flown on a pole. Buddhism also has a flag with five colors – yellow, blue, red, white and orange. According to folk lore, the colors represent those of a halo around Buddha. Goonesakera said the Buddhist flag was designed by an American, Henry Steel Olcott.

Leng said Watt Samaki means “together” in Cambodian. “We need to have a temple,” Leng said. "That's why we need help."

Kamnarp 18 Mina by Thavary

Courtesy of Sacravatoon :

Sacravatoons : " A big mouth Prince "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon :

Cambodians Enjoy Harmony With Cham Community

Posted on 7 March 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 550

“Many parts of the world are suffering from bloody conflicts due to religious reason. In Cambodia, followers of various religions have been living in harmony with followers of Buddhism, which the Constitution defines it as the state religion [Article 43: “Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to freedom of belief. Freedom of religious belief and worship shall be guaranteed by the State on the condition that such freedom does not affect other religious beliefs or violate public order and security. Buddhism shall be the State religion.”]. However, some western diplomats express their concerns about the recent influx of some Islamists who have no tolerance in their mind.

The Government has good relations with Muslim

“Most Muslim in Cambodia are Cham people. The Cham community has never been oppressed by Cambodian governments from the past until now, except during the Khmer Rouge regime, when both Cham and Khmer people shared the same plight.

“One can say that the Royal Government of Cambodia today has good relations with the Cham people. A number of Cham people have become very strong economically. For example, Mr. Othsman Hassan is a Cham millionaire, and he is now holding a position as Secretary of State at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.

“Another good indicative example is the development of Cham women. As one sees the example in other parts of the world, some Muslim women live with the strictest tradition, but Cham women in Cambodia have made a lot of changes compared to the time of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime. President of the Cambodian Islamic Women Development Association Lok Chumteav Asiyah Ali Othsman, who delivered a speech during a meeting with Lok Chumteav Bun Rany Hun Sen in the morning of 1 March 2008, said that before 1970, 90 percent of Muslim women in rural provinces and rural towns across Cambodia could not read and write Khmer, even though they could speak the Khmer language. She added that at that time, there were very few Muslim women who were engaging in government work, in non-government organizations, and in companies, or who even participated in other small activities.

“She also confirmed that from 1991 until now, young Muslim women went to school like men, both in rural and in urban areas. Even though some of their parents still live in poverty, their parents send their daughters to school until grade 5 and 6, and some get diploma degrees, and others receive higher education degrees, and some pursue their studies up to master degrees.
“To confirm the change in the social situation of Khmer Muslim women of today, as opposed to the previous generation, she said that currently there is one Muslim woman as a senator, one Muslim woman is deputy secretary of state at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and five women are members of Commune Councils.

“This is just an example of the politics of ‘good relations’ of the Royal Government of Cambodia regarding Muslim women. There are also many examples indicative of the support for Muslim men, the religion of Islam, and for the general Muslim community.

Recognizing harmonious living, but with worries

“About five percent of the Cambodian people follow Islam. In his report to American people in Washington via email, Mr. Joseph A. Mussomeli, the US ambassador to Cambodia, said that Cham people always follow Islam without extremism, but harmoniously living with tolerance in society. The US ambassador added that Cham people do not feel that they are hated or treated unfairly, which can cause terrorism like in other countries across the globe. According to the US ambassador, in fact, Cham people are poor, but most of them have access to education. However, the US ambassador expressed also his concerns, “We are still worried about the recent influx of an Islam without tolerance.” At the time of the Khmer Rouge regime, all Cham mosques were destroyed, and almost all educated person (including the Cham) were executed. Unfortunately, a gap started again with funds from extremists who intend to impose a strict form of Islam on the Cham people.

“However, the US ambassador did not give an actual example of what he had called ‘the recent influx of an Islam without tolerance.’

“Observers said that there was a crackdown on the groups involved with terrorists of the Jemaah Islamiya movement who came to Cambodia under the shelter of using the sign of the Umm Al-Qura school, located in Russey Chroy commune, in Mukh Kampoul district, in Kandal, along National Road No. 6A since 2003. This is an example of the presence of extremists [in case the Supreme Court does not reverse the previous judgments]. After a crackdown in 2004, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court opened a hearing to sentence six persons, including persons from Egypt and Thailand, to life imprisonment. After the Appeals Court had maintained the same verdict of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, now the Cambodian Supreme Court had opened a new hearing to try the case on 27 February 2008. The fate of these persons will be announced by the court on 12 March 2008.

“If one thoroughly examines the politics of good relations with the Cham people, this is only one means to prevent the influx of an extremist Islam into Cambodia. In particular, concerning politics, the Cambodian government should also pay attention to the investments of the Cham community.”

Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #2, 5.3.2008

Saving lives with clean water

UVic researchers play key role in Cambodian water-quality testing

By Tara Sharpe

It drips all over your face on hikes through local rain forests. It’s delivered to our homes and offices in heavy refillable bottles. And it flows on demand from thousands of taps here on Vancouver Island. We’ve got “water, water, everywhere” but there is often barely a drop worth drinking for people living in the rural communities of Siem Reap Province in Cambodia.

University of Victoria aquatic ecologist Dr. Asit Mazumder (biology) and his senior research associate William Duke, MD, want to help change that. They were invited by the world-wide humanitarian organization Rotary International to provide expertise in a community development project to improve household water quality and health in Siem Reap Province.

Mazumder, Duke and their colleagues in Victoria and Cambodia have set up a water-testing laboratory in the province’s capital city Siem Reap. Through interviews, water sampling and first-hand observation, they will evaluate water quality and health outcomes in 1,000 households in and around the capital city.

Although the capital has become a popular tourist destination, its economic benefits definitely do not extend to everyone. The province of Siem Reap—with a 53-per-cent poverty rate and 84 per cent of the population living in rural areas—is one of the poorest in Cambodia, and availability of safe water is a major concern. Less than one-third of the population has access to drinkable water and only 6 per cent have access to a latrine or toilet.

Add to this the daily realities of inadequate nutrition, poor hygiene and low literacy rates, and the outlook is stark, particularly for those who are the most vulnerable: the mortality rate for children under the age of five in Cambodia is the highest in southeast Asia at 120 of 1,000 live births.

“For me, it’s all about the children,” Duke says. “It’s the reason that I’m here at UVic doing this research.” Before joining as a researcher in Mazumder’s lab, Duke worked with Doctors of the World in Chiapas, Mexico, where he became aware of the tragic toll paid by families who lack access to safe water.

Among the 1,000 households in Cambodia, the lab technicians are looking at the performance of bio-sand filters intended to transform red cloudy water taken from hand-dug wells and nearby river tributaries and remove deadly E. coli and other pathogens. The villagers are given assistance to set up and maintain the filters and then regularly receive visits from the lab team to ensure the equipment is operating optimally.

Equipment funds were provided by Rotary International, while UVic provided the expertise, supervision and laboratory materials through Mazumder’s NSERC Research Chair Program on the environmental management of drinking water.

Mazumder’s NSERC Research Chair Program—established in 1999 at UVic—has been conducting partnership and community-based research and knowledge transfer on water and aquatic resources management, safe drinking water and community health.

“Contaminated drinking water is the biggest killer globally, especially in the rural and poor communities of developing countries, and the Siem Reap project is one of the ways to transfer the expertise and knowledge we developed at UVic to help communities improve health and well-being,” says Mazumder.

“It is the only water-testing facility in the area right now, and the project partners want to make sure it can exist on its own while continuing to provide crucial water-purification support to the villages. We hope to use this lab as a foundation for a sustainable research, training and community support program on integrated water resources management for safe drinking water for rural communities.”

Project partners include the local “Capacity Building” Health Education Program, the Ministry of Rural Development of Cambodia, Angkor Hospital for Children and National Institute of Public Health in Cambodia and the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.

Initial funding for the project will be exhausted by July 2008 and transition funding is already being sought to support the lab’s continued operation and eventual expansion.

Man sought to help others, helped himself

By Julie Blum
Thursday, Mar 06, 2008

COLUMBUS -- When Jon Hitz went on a mission trip to Cambodia, he wanted to make a difference in just a few people’s lives.

But it turned out the biggest difference he made was in his own.

“I went over there hoping to change four lives. I changed one, I know, mine,” the Columbus man said.

Hitz, 65, and his wife Betty have been quite the travelers over the years. They visited foreign lands such as Mexico, Jamaica, Germany and Aruba. It was a trip to China last year that convinced Hitz that he could use his background as a businessman to educate others and make their lives better. Hitz was the owner of El Matador for 17 years and has been involved with the counseling to small business group called SCORE.

Working through World Mission, he tried to set up another trip to China to teach people there about business. But instead it was suggested that he go to Cambodia where much of the population is poor and uneducated, he said.

“These people are non-educated. When Pol Pot came into power, he killed everyone with an education. If you had glasses, you were killed because then they knew you could read,” Hitz said, speaking of Cambodia’s former leader.

Hitz traveled to Cambodia on Jan. 26, visiting several cities where he taught basic business workshops to men and women.

Most of those in Cambodia, around 90 percent, are farmers, but own less than three acres of land. Hitz said he stressed to them that the only way they will be able to make their lives better is to become educated. But because many there are poor, Hitz said he also tried to help them improve their ways of farming to help them earn more money. That way they would be able to afford an education.

The average person in Cambodia earns about $40 a month by working six days a week for 10 hours each day, Hitz said. While the older population is reluctant to change, Hitz said the younger generation wants to learn and improve their lives.

During his nearly month-long stay in Cambodia, Hitz said he was amazed by the poverty the people there lived in.

“I’ve never seen anything as poor as I did there,” he said. “If they could just have what we waste ... .”

While the mission trip wasn’t necessarily focused on spreading Christianity, Hitz said he found himself growing in his own faith while he was there. He found himself spending evenings alone in his hotel room, and without American TV channels besides a fuzzy news station, Hitz spent a lot of time in prayer.

“I hadn’t knelt beside the bed since I was a little kid, but I did that in Cambodia,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like to be thankful until you visit a place like that.”

He said the trip has left him “spiritually changed” and he plans on returning. Hitz also said he would be willing to share his experiences with local service groups, church groups or others, and can be reached by calling 564-2377.

Fever dreams and forgotten ghosts

FROM L.A. TO PHNOM PENH, BY WAY OF VENUS: Dengue Fever From left: Ethan Holtzman, Senon Williams, Zac Holtzman, Paul Smith, David Ralicke and Chhom Nimol


“You know how perfume covers things up to make things seem prettier? It’s the big cover-up of trying to put a better face on a really sad situation.”

Over the phone from California, Zac Holtzman, the founder, primary songwriter, guitarist and singer of Los Angeles sextet Dengue Fever, is explaining the subtext of “Monsoon of Perfume,” a gorgeous ballad on the band’s recent album Venus on Earth, their third and most successful batch of retro psych-rock in a Cambodian vernacular.

“It’s actually the most Cambodian song on the album, and in a modern sense too. It’s what you actually hear when you go there—it’s about karaoke, about a karaoke bar and the people who get up and perform there.

“There’s a custom that their friends and fans do, which is take these pinkish, perfumed tissues that are on all the tables, twist them up into a rose shape and go up and give it to the person who’s performing, almost like delivering a bouquet of flowers.”

Holtzman and his brother Ethan, who handles organ duties, started Dengue Fever in 2001, striving to revive the distinctive rock ’n’ roll of Cambodian artists like Sin Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea, tunes they discovered on dusty cassettes while travelling there. They inducted bassist Senon Williams, drummer Paul Smith and saxophonist David Ralicke (whose horn arrangements bring a note of Afro funk to the table, alongside Holtzman’s spaghetti Western twang), and then found their ace in the hole. Chhom Nimol, a young singer with an established rep back home, was working the Cambodian community circuit in California when the brothers discovered her and, with some cajoling, convinced her to front the band.

The “sad situation” Holtzman alludes to, one that permeates the music of Dengue Fever, is no mere romantic cock-up or comparable material for melodrama. It’s nothing less than the war, and then the extended campaign of auto-extermination, that wiped out a quarter of the Southeast Asian nation’s population in the mid-’70s, including the country’s celebrated rock ’n’ rollers.

Shattered by American carpet bombing—a spill-over from the Vietnam War, like the rock ’n’ soul on U.S. military radio that inspired the artists on whose work Dengue Fever draws—Cambodia was swarmed by “Brother Number 1” Pol Pot and his rural Communist insurgents, the Khmer Rouge, who systematically murdered academics, technocrats, artists and anyone with the faintest whiff of the West to them.

Wearing glasses, owning a radio, a passing grasp of the English language—all capital offences until early 1979, when Vietnamese troops drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

Rocky road to travel

“It’s a very charged situation,” says filmmaker John Pirozzi of Cambodia today. The dwindling yet nasty Khmer Rouge guerrilla war gasped its last only at the end of the ’90s, and the trials of the surviving leaders for crimes against humanity drag on into the new millennium.

“I think there’s an element within Cambodian society that wants to make sure that what happened is taught in the schools properly, and that people understand their history, and there’s another element that wants to move past it. I think it’s a tricky balancing act.”

Since 2001, when he served as camera operator and second-unit DOP on Matt Dillon’s film City of Ghosts (which featured a newly minted Dengue Fever covering Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”), Pirozzi has visited the country several times. But while the ghosts of that time of horror a generation ago still linger, it’s what came before—and, in Dengue Fever, so many years after—that led Pirozzi to work on not one but two documentary films.

Pirozzi’s original project was a doc called Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, an exploration of the originators of the sound which is still in the works. Finished first, though, was Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, which Pirozzi presents this weekend at the Saidye Bronfman Centre’s swank new CinemaSpace room, the night after Dengue Fever return for a show.

The film follows another return, of sorts, for the band. In 2005, Dengue Fever made a two-week pilgrimage to Cambodia, performing a number of concerts, jamming with traditional musicians and making a memorable appearance on national television. The band’s dynamics were inverted, with Chhom, on her home turf, taking the lead.

“They were on her territory, and I wanted the film to reflect that,” says Pirozzi. “In the opening scene, when they’re introducing themselves on that TV show, you can really see that they’re nervous. They’re trying to speak a little Khmer, they’re obviously not in their element, and I purposefully didn’t subtitle the TV hostess who’s introducing them, so that the audience would feel what the band was feeling. It was good that they were open to the experience and really put themselves out there. They had no idea how people were going to respond. They just went for it, and by the end of the trip, they felt it was really successful.”

Oldies and aliens

Pirozzi’s film succeeds not only in telling the tale of Dengue Fever’s journey to the source but in capturing the demure beauty of the Buddhist nation. He points out how helpful the Cambodians were across the board.

“They want to see projects that portray Cambodia in a positive light. So many films focus on the recent history, and it’s hard for films to come in and do stuff that’s more positive. It just doesn’t happen that often. So I think they realized that this would be one of those kinds of projects.

“One thing I learned, being there with the band, this music really is Cambodia’s golden oldies. It really is the older people who respond to it, because to them, it symbolizes a time when things were much better for them, before the war. When you go to see Dengue Fever in clubs in America, it’s all kids, younger people dancing, it’s pretty hip music. But it has such deep roots there, it reaches back to the older people.”

On these shores, Dengue Fever’s tunes have reached all kinds of folks, dominating and in fact breaking out beyond the specialized world-music market. Likewise, they’ve gone past the straightforward cover versions of their self-titled debut, crafting several original songs for their sophomore release of 2005, Escape From Dragon House (named after the L.A. restaurant where they found Chhom). Their latest, Venus on Earth, is entirely original material, reflecting their unique musical formula and quirky interests.

Take, for instance, “Integratron,” a slow-burning exotic rocker named after, as Holtzman explains, “a building that was built out in Joshua Tree, California in the ’40s by this guy who supposedly received instructions from beings from Venus. They told him to build it without any metal, and in this crazy parabolic shape. There’s this thing around the outside that spins, and would heal you and actually turn back the years.”

Language barriers

The extraterrestrial trip continues on “Oceans of Venus,” an opulent instrumental. “The direction it went was sort of psychedelic surf, and by the time we were 75 per cent into it being what it was, it felt just fine without any vocals on it. And the saxophone and my brother’s keyboards on it are kind of haunting, outer space voices at the end of it. They feel like voices, so it felt fine without having Nimol on that one.”

Chhom’s soaring vocals are essential, though, to the duet “Tiger Phone Card,” which hinges on the fact that, while improving rapidly, Chhom’s English is hardly perfect. “The slightly broken English makes it even better and more sincere,” says Holtzman, “because in a long-distance relationship, that’s kinda how things are—little mispronunciations and misunderstandings.”
By the same token, Holtzman’s facility with the Cambodian language Khmer—he often sings in it—is coming along in fits and starts. “I totally embraced it when we were in Cambodia, carrying a little notebook to write my own things in, and learning as much as I could absorb. I’ve gotten kinda lazy, though, when I’m not surrounded by Khmer-speaking people.”

Perhaps Holtzman will have that opportunity again, if the band returns to Cambodia. “We’re not going crazy over the plans, but there’s been talk, and there are a few places we played over there that really want to have us back, and talk of a beer company getting behind us to sponsor the whole trip, and we’ve got a friend we met there who writes for the BBC… but right now, we’ve got two U.S. tours and two European tours coming up, so there’s a lot on our plate.”

Dengue Fever play with Jerusalem In My Heart and Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche at la Sala Rossa on Friday, March 7, 9 p.m., $12. Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, presented by John Pirozzi, screens at the Segal Centre’s CinemaSpace on Saturday, March 8, 9:30 p.m., $8 ($6/students and seniors)

Helper's journey leads from Katrina to Cambodia

Thursday, March 06, 2008
By Elizabeth • 810.766.6311

GRAND BLANC - Nobody has to tell Nicole Ragnone what it's like to watch your world destroyed.

In August 2005, she and daughter Vivienne, now 4, were among thousands who fled New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The University of Michigan-Flint nursing student, 38, now lives with her parents in Grand Blanc. But she returns to the Big Easy every summer, volunteering at a free medical clinic in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward.

So Ragnone knows full well she doesn't have to go halfway around the world to help people in need.

But she's doing it anyway.

She and nine other UM-Flint nursing students will travel in June with two faculty members to Cambodia, a country still devastated by very unnatural disasters - the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

The students will bring supplies and donate their time at orphanages, schools and village centers in Phnom Penh - immortalized in the Vietnam-era film "The Killing Fields" for the infamous Khmer Rouge torture killings - and Siem Reap, a city with its own French Quarter dating to the French colonial period in the early 1900s.

"We aren't going there to take over anything. We're just more hands to help more people," said Ragnone.

Nursing faculty member Maureen Tippen organized the service trip after spending three weeks in Cambodia last year, seeing firsthand how visible the scars of that war still are.

"The big thing that hits you is how very few older people there are. You see almost no one my age and up," said Tippen, 51. "You quickly learn the reason is the Khmer Rouge and (former Cambodian dictator) Pol Pot's regime killed anyone educated - all the teachers, the doctors and nurses. Unless they fled into the countryside, they were killed."

Outside the tourist centers, the country still is littered with land mines, orphanages and overwhelming poverty.

Tippen plans to take her students to a small clinic where villagers literally live off the pickings of a garbage dump.

"Every day after the trucks dump, the pickers go through all the garbage. They each have their own little thing -- plastic, aluminum, whatever. You see kids 4 and 5 years old filling garbage bags to earn a few cents."

The UM-Flint students will help with basic health care education, teaching children how to brush their teeth or wash their hands. They'll perform other tasks in other locations, too.

Each student must pay $4,339 for the trip, and each is collecting a duffel bag of small health and personal care items for distribution. Donations for either are appreciated, Tippen said.

Tippen selected students for qualities such as flexibility, team skills, enthusiasm and positive attitude.

"The travel is rough, and it can be shocking in a lot of ways. Everybody has their day on these trips when they fall apart. They're tired, hot, hungry, they didn't sleep well. You need some students who are real leaders who can step in and help."

Ragnone's maturity and personal experiences make her one of those, she said.

Ragnone said she just hopes the group will have some impact on the people they meet and that they'll bring back skills and wisdom that will make them better nurses.

"I care about here, there and everywhere," she said. "Katrina really opened my eyes about how necessary it is to look out for our fellow man, how much better things could be if we are working together toward a cause."

Ieng Sary Ends Hospital Stint

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
06 March 2008

Khmer audio aired March 6 (686 KB) - Listen (MP3)

Jailed Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary ended a two-week stay in the hospital Thursday, as the tribunal moved closer to trials of five aging leaders.

Ieng Sary's release from the hospital came a day after Nuon Chea, the senior-most jailed Khmer Rouge leader, underwent a check-up.

Nuon Chea's lawyer Son Arun said Thursday he was appealing to tribunal judges to be appraised whenever his client is moved to the hospital.

Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign affairs minister, who is 82, was rushed to the hospital in February after urinating blood. His attorneys have argued he should not be kept in tribunal detention but held under house arrest.

Khmer Krom Group Requests Programs, Curriculum

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
06 March 2008

Khmer audio aired March 6 (970 KB) - Listen (MP3)

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization has asked state media to broadcast programs surrounding the history of the minority people and their culture and the Ministery of Education to insert the group's history into school curriculum.

Without the dissemination of this information, Khmer Krom minorities are at risk of rights violations, said Ang Chanrith, executive director of the rights organization.

Chea Se, undersecretary of state for the Education Ministry, said he supported educating people on Cambodian history, and the history of the world, and a request from the group would be discussed.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thursday the group should not rely on the state to promote its message, but can publish its own literature.

Former Khmer Rouge Turn to Christ

By Kong Soth, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
06 March 2008

Khmer audio aired March 6 (0.98 MB) - Listen (MP3)

A small number of former Khmer Rouge say they are moving from bad karma and Buddhism toward forgiveness and Christianity.

In the former rebel stronghold of Pailin, there are at least two Christian churches, and as many as 100 converts.

Pou Him is a former Khmer Rouge soldier living in Pailin. He said he believes very strongly in Jesus Christ, and he also has the Bible to read at home.

He said he was working under the Khmer Rouge for many years, and at that time believed in Buddhism, which follows a belief in karma.

If you do something wrong, he said, you can receive bad karma and cannot be cleaned of what has been done. So, after coming back from a refugee camp along the Cambodian-Thai border in 1992, he converted to Christianity.

"Jesus does everything for us, to bless us, and what we have committed," he said. "I have been baptized, so Jesus will help me pray away from the devil."

Some Khmer Rouge soldiers, like Meas Kim, say poverty changed their religion.

Meas Kim lived in Koh Kong province during the war, but in peace, she moved to Pailin with her family and six children. She has been a believer in Christ for almost 20 years, she said, and hopes God will help the family.

"I hope my children can go to school, because Jesus Christ can help them and train them," she said. "I believe that it is very just for me, that I can pray away my bad devils, and hope that He will take the bad devil from me."

Mean Lab, a priest at For Good News Church in Pailin, said there are at least 100 former Khmer Rouge soldiers who believe in Jesus Christ, though some of them are not 100 percent sure.

"Jesus, when he was born a human, his purpose was to save humans on Earth, to free them from the Devil," he said. "Our people want to know why Jesus came to the Earth. He came to the Earth because he wanted to save the people."

Roth Phanith, a priest at a Presbyterian church in Pailin, said that there are some people who "believe" only in order to get a gift.

"That's why sometimes we have some difficulty to go out and do this outreach about God to the people in Pailin," he said.

There is no kept number of churches or religious organizations in Cambodia, said Chhorn Em, secretary of state for the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

There are "a lot," he said, adding that this did not affect the nation's predominant Buddhist traditions.

"For the future, we are worried for the youth, because we consider much about the elderly people, the old generation, and we never take care of the new one," he said. "This is a problem in the future. But for the present, it's only a small number."

Women Politicians Begin Multi-Party Course

By Suon Kanika, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
06 March 2008

Khmer audio aired March 6 (1.06 MB) - Listen (MP3)

Thirty-six women from three political parties began a three-day training course in campaign communication in Phnom Penh Wednesday.

The National Democratic Institute course aims to prepare women in the political parties with parliamentary seats, the Cambodian People's Party, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, for national elections.

The core trainers from the political parties will learn more about democracy, as well as self-confidence, in an effort to support other women candidates as Cambodia heads toward national elections in July.

The course will also promote multi-party dialogue, organizers said.

First Duch Hearing Expected in July

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
06 March 2008

Khmer audio aired March 5 (988 KB) - Listen (MP3)

Tribunal judges say they are nearly finished preparing a case for jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch and hope to have a first trial-phase hearing in July.

Duch, 65, spent two days last week touring former Khmer Rogue sites with witnesses, and two more days being confronted by the witnesses against him.

All this was to help investigating judges in their case, and they now say they are moving toward the "trial phase" of the proceedings.

DFNN unit to buy 90% of Cambodian gaming firm for $4.2M

Diversified Financial Network Inc. (DFNN) said Wednesday its Singaporean unit Pacific Gaming Investments Pte. Limited will acquire a 90-percent stake in a Cambodian slot machine operator for $4.2 million.

DFNN said Pacific Gaming has conducted a due diligence audit on Poseidon Co. Limited of Cambodia and decided to push through with its acquisition.

From June to December 2007, Poseidon generated revenues of $21.2 million and a net profit of $1.09 million, said DFNN.

Its gross profit for the first two months of 2008 amounted to $518,315.DFNN said the purchase will be accomplished by a locally incorporated company in Cambodia, PGI Cambodia, and will be completed before the end of the first quarter.

DFNN said the acquisition was part of its plan to gain foothold in the Cambodian gaming industry and further its expansion in Asia.

Cambodian restaurant looking for new owner

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COMSovan Bounthuy, middle, of Chez Sovan Cambodian Restaurant in Restaurant Row, with daughters, Laura Chum, left, and Kelly Nou.

The Restaurant Row eatery is up for sale with the cook's recipes

Thursday, March 6, 2008
By Jennifer Sudick

Chez Sovan Express at Restaurant Row is for sale. The Cambodian restaurant, which has served Honolulu's weekday lunch crowd for four years, is listed for $150,000.

Owner Sovan Boun Thuy, 66, said she is selling so she can retire.

"I cannot handle all of it," she said. "In January, February and March, business has been slow."

The restaurant was opened by Thuy's eldest daughter Kelly Nou following the success of two other Cambodian eateries she started in San Jose, Calif.

Thuy runs Chez Sovan now with her youngest daughter Laura Chum, 30, and Chum's husband, Edison Beltran. Lunch items range from the popular curry chicken to stir-fried vermicelli noodles and cost less than $10.

Thuy said she has had one interested buyer and that the business would benefit from an expansion into other Asian cuisine, such as the addition of a sushi bar. The sale price includes Thuy's recipes, furniture and equipment, said real estate agent Nora Bland of Sofos Realty Corp.

"I want people to keep my recipes because I know what people here like," Thuy said. "I can give them my recipes and they can add their food."

Rent and utilities at the 1,414-square-foot restaurant cost more than $7,000 a month. Thuy said she must decide this month whether to agree to a renewal of the restaurant's five-year leasehold agreement, which expires in May 2009. She said she wants to sell the business as soon as possible.

Thuy's son still owns her first Cambodian restaurant, opened in 1987 on Oakland Avenue in San Jose originally as a burger joint. She opened her second -- and much bigger -- location in the city's Campbell neighborhood in 1990 and sold it to a friend upon moving to Hawaii in 2005. All of Thuy's six children have worked in her restaurants, as well as her now-retired husband, Ytthan Chum, 68, who once served in the Cambodian air force.

Thuy, born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, moved to Long Beach, Calif., in 1975 from Thailand. She then moved her family to Washington, D.C., followed by a move to Portland, Ore., and then San Jose.

"Maybe later my kids will take up my recipes again," she said.

Hare Krishna leader accused of paedophilia in Cambodia

March 6th, 2008

DPA , Phnom Penh, March 6 (DPA) The president of a Hare Krishna-affiliated aid organisation has been arrested from a guest house, allegedly in the company of two young girls in a state of undress, an anti-trafficking police chief said Thursday.

US national Thomas Rapanos Wayne, alias Tattva Darshan Das, whose age was not given, president of the non-government organisation Bhaktivedanta Eco Village (BEV) Cambodia, was allegedly arrested in a Phnom Penh guest house in the company of two girls aged 12 and 16.

The age of consent in Cambodia is 15.

Phnom Penh municipal anti-trafficking police chief Eim Rathana said Wayne was arrested Wednesday and investigations were continuing.

“The American has denied the charges, and we must continue to investigate,” Rathana said by telephone.

BEV was registered in Cambodia as an aid organisation focusing on agricultural assistance, education and childcare in 2006.

An anti-trafficking group, Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), which said it assisted in arresting Wayne, said by email Thursday that the alleged victims had been cooperating with the investigation.

Rathana said Wayne had yet to be charged Thursday evening.

The relatively obscure branch of his BEV organisation in Cambodia claims to assist “little children and even university students aspiring to learn”, according to its website.

Cambodian authorities have arrested dozens of foreign paedophiles in recent years, often with the help of non-governmental organisations such as APLE, in an effort to shake off its reputation as a haven for child molesters.